LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA

 

'THE CALM before the storm': that is really what life feels like for many Australian Anglicans at present. Things are relatively quiet on all fronts. But beneath the surface there is a great apprehension about the retirement of Sydney's Archbishop Goodhew in March next year, and the election of his successor.

That apprehension was given voice by the Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn at his Diocesan Synod last month in the presence of Dr Goodhew, who was visiting as Metropolitan. In his Presidential Address, Browning even said that he and his liberal diocese faced the prospect of a new Archbishop of Sydney "with some fear and trepidation . . . for that person will also be our Metropolitan". After looking at ways that the traditions of Canberra-Goulburn and Sydney might enrich each other (such as considering funding for "a biblical or theological lecturer at St. Mark's [College of Ministry], sympathetic with Sydney Diocese's theological emphasis), Browning called for more dialogue on "the vexed question of lay presidency in Sydney" which he saw as having emerged from a "congregational view of Church within one that is episcopally ordered" . . . a state of affairs that he described as "impossible".

Then, a couple of Saturdays ago, the front-page headline in The Weekend Australian announced "Open Warfare", referring, not to the Middle East, but to relationships between Australian Anglicans. It was, of course, a story leading up to the Sydney Synod. This is the first meeting of the Sydney Synod since the election of Peter Carnley as Primate.

Within the Diocese of Sydney there is still a sense of shock and horror at Carnley's election. His behaviour in the women priests debate, his published theological views, as well as the answers he gave to various questions upon being elected, provoked a sense of outrage among evangelicals. "He misjudged Sydney", according to Robert Forsyth, now Bishop of South Sydney. That is why over 6,000 worshippers signed petitions asking that the Synod:

"1. support the Sydney Standing Committee in its request to the Primates (28/2/2000): to affirm in the face of current denials - the uniqueness of Jesus as the only name for obtaining salvation; our redemption through his full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world whereby he reconciled his Father to us; the resurrection of Jesus in which he took again his body with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature; and the sufficiency and authority of Scripture; and to reject current advocacy of heterosexual immorality and homosexual practice;

"2. ask the Archbishop of Sydney not to authorise any persons to preach or participate in the leadership of church services in the Diocese of Sydney who will not give assent to the doctrines and principles above.

"3. ask the Sydney representatives to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia to ask the General Synod at its 2001 meeting to ask all Australian Diocesan Bishops not to authorise any persons to preach or participate in the leadership of church services in their dioceses who will not give assent to the doctrines and principles above."

Motions covering these matters were placed on the notice paper. Number 1 was enthusiastically passed by the Synod. There was no time for debate on 2 and 3, which Synod then sent to the Diocesan Standing Committee for its consideration. Nevertheless, the Sydney Synod has delivered a significant message to the rest of the Church in time for next year's General Synod in Brisbane. By then there will be a new Archbishop of Sydney, and the battle for the Anglican Church of Australia (a battle between evangelicals and liberals) will intensify.

Since the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Goodhew's standing as a leader has increased dramatically. Initially thought of by many in Sydney as not being tough enough, he has exercised real influence at the international level among third world evangelicals as well as with those in the USA who have turned to him for support. This is the context in which he referred to the question of lay presidency in his presidential address: "If lay people and/or deacons are authorised to conduct Holy Communion it will have at least two outcomes. It will isolate the Diocese in the Anglican Communion and lessen the impact of its voice in those circles. In addition it will limit the portability of clergy from the Diocese. Bishops from other parts of the Communion will be less likely to license our clergy or to make use of our resources for training clergy and laity".

Already, some of the more extreme Sydney leaders are speaking about the alternative outcome - Sydney Diocese using its influence among evangelicals throughout the Anglican Communion to overthrow the last trappings of the papal system . . . a special class of people who alone can perform particular cultic acts.

Dr Goodhew turned his attention to church planting, both within Sydney Diocese and across Diocesan boundaries. He admitted that the process is now well under way, "and though it does not have legitimisation from me as Archbishop, that fact is a very minor issue for Anglican people who feel strongly motivated to create ‘gospel churches’ in situations where they believe gospel preaching is 'unclear and ambiguous'. The fact that significant clergy and laity in the Diocese actively support these new churches makes our protestations of non-approval a little less than the whole truth . . . The attraction of new ‘evangelical’ churches in places beyond Sydney is beginning to express itself in a trickle of people leaving the Diocese to serve them or to serve student ministries. A number of students at Moore College express an interest in planting new churches without the encumbrances of existing structures. This . . . is a reality. Understandably, it will continue to strain relationships between dioceses that exist in a church structure constitutionally committed to the autonomy of individual dioceses."

Who will the next Archbishop of Sydney be? Provided that the "mainstream Sydney" vote is not divided between two candidates, it seems likely that Dr Peter Jensen, Principal of Moore College for the last fifteen years, will be elected. Dr Jensen, a quiet, gracious and studious man, has a passion for the Gospel, as evidenced in his address at the Anglican Church League Synod Dinner. (It can be found on the web at http://www.anglicanmediasydney.asn.au/synod2000/acl.htm)

If ever there was "policy speech" this is it! Jensen masterfully outlines the context in which the Gospel is proclaimed in today's Australia, and sets out his strategy for the future in no uncertain terms. In spite of the fact that he represents the wing of evangelicalism that is most anti-Catholic, Dr Jensen is friendly towards the more orthodox Anglo-Catholics, and has expressed a genuine admiration for some with whom he has worked at the national level over the years, respecting our devotion to Christ and our notion of the givenness of the Faith. He has learned to distinguish between "Anglo-Catholics who believe in the Bible" and the liberals who make things up as they go along.

There is, of course, a significant coalition of minorities in the Sydney Synod - liberal catholics, liberal evangelicals, and some whose sympathies lie with the Jensen approach, but who, like Harry Goodhew, are not "hard-liners" - estimated at about 30% of the Synod. Most informed commentators, however, believe that people like the Primate and the Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn are right to be apprehensive, for over the last few years those likely to elect Jensen have steadily improved their voting strength.

Without doubt, the Sydney election next year will make a lasting impact on the whole Anglican Communion.

David Chislett is the Rector of All Saint's, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane in the diocese of Brisbane.

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